* Fit the plot around the characters, not the other way round. From Blair in Gossip Girl to Frank in Blue Velvet, the most interesting characters are those who do something you don’t expect, without actually behaving out of character. And if they don’t surprise the writer, they’re unlikely to surprise the viewer.
* Write something you care about. It sounds obvious – why spend months or years on something if you don’t give a damn? But a light-bulb went on when having coffee with a top producer: I was talking up my sci-fi script, then my thriller script, when she said, “Yes, but what have you written that you really care about?” I did care about these scripts, of course, but she meant something authentic, something only I could write. So I’ve just finished a script, that was very hard to write, inspired by the death of my father. It may or may not get made, but if it has “heart”, it gets you noticed as a writer.
* Don’t do a zillion drafts, unless they are major changes. I can carry on chiselling away at a script for months, but sometimes it’s just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
* Make your first five pages extraordinary. If they don’t grab the reader and make them want to know more, they won’t even read the rest.
* Don’t ignore accepted structure, however much you may admire Charlie Kaufman. There’s a reason for all those courses and books: it tends to work. My fave book on this in recent years, incidentally, is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.
* Get a second opinion. And a third, and a fourth… But don’t trust friends and family to give you honest and/or informed feedback. Pay a professional script reader. I’ve personally found Ellin Stein brilliant (www.solidscripts.co.uk). I also met Michelle of http://www.writesofluid.com at the London Screenwriters Festival, and she seems pretty switched on. Another cheap and easy option is to agree with other writers to critique each other’s scripts.
* Don’t just write it, sell the damn thing. I had a sci-fi script in my bottom drawer for ten years, which I only showed to a couple of producers. Then Looper comes out, with pretty much exactly the same high-concept premise (a time assassin on a mission to kill himself), and it’s hailed as one of the best sci-fi flicks in years. This year, I’m going to put myself about more. Starting with my London, Hollywood blog. If you like it, please Follow it, Retweet it, tell your friends.